When the former consul general of Israel in New York, Alon Pinkas, speaks at the Reform Temple of Forest Hills on April 27, he will mark a return to a scene of his youth.
It was in Forest Hills, in fact, where he developed a love for the New York Yankees and the New York Giants. “That’s what happens when you spend some years of your childhood surrounded by Mets and Jets fans,” he explained with, one would think, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Lest anyone get the wrong impression, though, it will not be sports that Pinkas will discuss as the special guest at the 16th annual Telsey Symposium and Reception, an event made possible through an endowment from the Telsey family.
Pinkas will turn his attention to the topic “Conflicts and the Future of Israel.” According to promoters of the event, “His talk will provide a fascinating analysis of current events around the globe punctuated with human and personal anecdotes.”
In an exclusive interview with the Chronicle, Pinkas offered an insider’s analysis of the complicated, fluid situation in the Middle East, where peace has long proven an elusive goal.
“There have been millions of pages written about this,” he said. “There is a multitude of reasons that can explain this: the absence of democracy in the Arab world, the absence of liberal-democratic institutions, ethnic hatreds, difficulties in dealing with modernity, distrust, Arab politics, Israeli policies, the United States-Soviet Union rivalry. Take your pick.”
The relationship between the U.S. and Israel is, in fact, sometimes difficult to understand. Pinkas called it “Israel’s greatest asset,” explaining that it “evolved from normalcy to friendship to partnership to alliance, based on shared values, shared common interests and a shared world vision.
“Naturally, there are shifts and challenges resulting from regional changes, reprioritization of U.S. foreign policy interests and concerns,” he said. “However, while there is a divergence of interests on some issues, the foundations of the relationship are solid. This does not mean that Israel has the luxury of taking it for granted. This relationship needs to be constantly nurtured and attended to.”
While the relationship between the two countries goes back decades, some suggest that the bond between Israel and the average American Jew has begun to show signs of disintegration.
Pinkas concurred, suggesting that “the current generation of younger American Jews grew up against the background of a strong, powerful and successful Israel. This integration into American society has been complete and consequently they feel less emotionally tied, less politically committed and less anxious than their parents and grandparents were regarding Israel’s well-being.”
He suggested change is necessary.
“Unless we disassociate from the Palestinians and they establish their own state, we will face major demographic issues,” he predicted. “By 2020 at the latest, Palestinian Arabs will outnumber Israeli Jews in the geographical unit stretching from the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. At that point, they will demand ‘One state, one man, one vote,’ which will ominously imperil Israel’s identity and raison d’etre as a Jewish democracy.
“The average Israeli intuitively and cerebrally understands the necessity, although not the attractiveness, of the two-state solution. But viscerally, Israelis are justifiably anxious, apprehensive and suspicious of a Palestinian state turning into a terror-sponsoring and terror-exercising state. This needs to be addressed during negotiations and mechanisms to prevent it have to be installed for a prolonged period of time.”
As a self-proclaimed Zionist, Pinkas added, “A Palestinian state is not something I fondly dream about, but I’m a realist and support the idea because it is the only model/solution that would ensure Israel’s long-term future as a Jewish democracy.”
According to Pinkas, there are other issues to be reckoned with, as well. “The other challenges are domestic and socio-economic by nature. Income inequality has created a permanent impoverished class which is growing,” he said.
Pinkas, who is no longer a government official, is expected to draw a large crowd on the 27th.
Lois Silverman, a member of the Reform Temple and chairperson of the Telsey Symposium, said that in years past, the annual event has drawn between 70 and 90 guests. “We’re hoping with Alon’s stature to get 100,” she said, adding, “We have a lot of people who are very interested in Israel. People are watching closely. Incredible things are going on.”
She also believes Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to negotiate in the region make for a “very timely item right now.”
Past temple president Larry Bloom added, “I like the idea that the temple is on the cutting edge. We want to know what’s going on in the world today and how we can contribute. It’s an active, vibrant community. Having a speaker such as Alon Pinkas — we’re all affected by it.”
The symposium will take place at the Reform Temple, at 71-11 112 St., at 3 p.m. Tickets for the program and cocktail reception are $18. For reservations or further information, call (718) 261-2900.